Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Tbilisi - an over-long, schmaltzy, melodrama of an account

The City a wreck. Nesting in clumps in a valley, climbing partly up the high hills, and tumbling into gorges, the buildings all seem to be a freeze frame of mid-collapse. My black shoes turn grey every day from the dust kicked up on unfinished streets, and hallways everywhere reek faintly of fecal matter. Electricity zaps on and off, but nothing like the winter where it is nearly always off and the city, I'm told, glows with candles.

The Hotel Iveria stands in the center of town; once a prestigious hotel and landmark, it now houses refugees that fled Abkhazia. The balconies circling the exterior of the builing have all been finished into extra rooms with wood, brick, and blankets. The hotel looks like a tumor, crawling with a rainbow of infestation.

Still, it's the most unlikely charm you can imagine. Walking by our clean, upkept buildings in America, or even the sagging brown slums, you'd never know how the multicolor of decay can be beautiful. Look up into the hills for a peek at the ruins of an ancient fortress. Down below, the tiny beehives of the sulphur baths once reserved for kings. The incongruities everywhere are striking...this stunning panorama of hills and cliffs cradling a devastated town; stylishly dressed girls walk arm-in-arm down filthy streets as though they were strolling Milan; the terrifying Soviet apartment block that seems slick with disease houses an elegant apartment for the wealthy elite; the grand exterior of a government building that is putrid, dark, and riddled with bullet holes inside.

The People
All the boys are named some variant of George. This becomes, in local parlance, Giorgy, Gio, Goga, Gogi, Gigi. Gocha and Givi may or may not be related. Women are invariably Nino: in our office alone we have Nino, Nina, Nino and Nata. Tamar becomes Tako, which lead to the mouth-watering comment that someone was bringing two Takos to a party on Friday. I've met Zaza, Zura, Mero, and Sergo.

Groups of boys will of course hover on street corners looking tough in black leather jackets, but for someone expecting the hostility of Moscow streets, Tbilisi residents have been a relief. Of course there is danger, and foreigners are targets, but on my first free day in Tbilisi, I sat down and pulled out a map after wandering aimlessly during the morning. I couldn't have been studying the map for more than 3 minutes before some locals gathered around me. "Where are you going? We help you, come on." And I was treated to a tour that lasted the rest of the afternoon, with promises of more to come. Unlike Moscow, the grocery clerks will grin rather than snarl, and the guards say "excuse me" and "hello" and "have a nice day" instead of barking "dokumenty!" with a sneer.

But it's a chauvinistic culture with guns and machismo and settling things like "men." I stood waiting for my co-worker to come out of the McDonald's bathroom, where she'd insisted on a Big Mac for breakfast. Without any apparent cause, a burly thug walked over to swagger right in front of me. When his strutting failed to earn my attention, he thrust one hip forward in my direction and lifted the edge of his shirt as if to adjust his clothing, but clearly making sure I couldn't miss the pistol handle coming from his pocket. I was clearly meant to be impressed. I took a bored slug of my coffee and turned the other way. "I'm from Texas, sweetheart," I thought. "You'll need a bigger gun that that if you want to impress me." Firearms at McDonalds at 9:00 am - does this work on Georgian girls?

Getting Around Town
Taxi drivers have no clue where anything is in the city. Oh, feel free to give them a street name (don't waste your time with address numbers), but don't expect to get anywhere near where you're going with such paltry information. Instead, pay attention to the streets neighboring your hotel. When the name of the correct street fails to spark any recognition, start shouting out the names of neighboring streets until you see the "aha" moment. When you get into the neighborhood, start directing your driver through left and right turns. In Russian.

Also, given the utter lack of traffic laws, lanes, or lights, don't be surprised that all your cabs seem to be missing parts that you would consider useful: fenders, windshields, wheels attached by more than a hair. And don't expect to get out of a fare just because you have to push the cab down a hill and jump in to get it going. This is manual transmission.

The Elections
Good elections don't make good news, so you might have missed the blurb on Monday morning noting that Georgia elected its parliamentarians. But it's huge news here, for the people who not long ago watched the old Election Commissioner type in the results he desired into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and publish them as official. The overhaul has been breathtaking.

I traveled to 2 precincts in Tbilisi, and 5 in a nearby village to evaluate the conduct of elections there. Good elections, however, are somewhat boring to watch as well. With no flagrant violations to distract me, my attention wandered to the spectacle itself.

In the village, these ancient pensioners are hobbling in one after another. It's a cliche, but you can't help thinking about the things they've seen. This is a poor, poor country, and it's not an easy life for these people. Looking at them, you know they've survived wars hot and cold, and surely lost people to the purges perpetrated by their own leaders. They all came bearing Soviet passports as ID - these documents were compulsory under Soviet law, and what possible need could they have for a new passport or a driver's license?

I can't beging to capture the poignancy of standing in a crumbling room heated by a wood-burning stove in the land that brought us Stalin, watching pensioners with tattered Soviet passports cast votes in a free and fair election.
Many of these people could barely walk without help, some were blind. Don't let it be said that people in impoverished countries don't value their freedom.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

They are trying to kill me

I have been assured by various and sundry that nobody gets a first night in Georgia like I had. That I survived my hazing, I hope, is enough to get me into whatever club they run in this place.

After touching down in Tbilisi, I was raced down the labyrinthine, medieval alleys that pass for streets to my hotel. My suitcase was tossed upstairs, and I had five minutes to change shirts, wash my face, and be ready for Dinner. I capitalize that for a reason.

So, I trot my bewildered jet-lagged torso up and down the stairs, and then it's off to the restaurant. Entering, I see an enormous long table with place settings for thirty. All seats were filled in short order. In no time, this table was buried in fruits, cheeses, breads, olives, and vegetables. Pitchers of wine appeared at our elbows every few minutes and just as quickly disappeared. The tamada, or Georgian toastmaster, would rise every few minutes to lead us in praise of friends, life, women, love, wine, and we'd chug our glasses dry. The light were turned out and flaming plates of what I called "fajitas" were brought out - delectable chicken in a creamy sauce. Then the shashlik, then the cakes, then the french fries (?). Each bite washed down with the wine that spontaneously refilled itself throughout the evening. (Chief suspect, "Soso," the Russian-speaking chap on my left.)

The plates of food, many barely touched, were soon stacked three deep across this massive table. The singing began. The dancing followed in short order. I stumbled out on the floor flapping my arms in imitation of the Georgian dancing style. Did I mention jet lag?

By the end of this five-hour meal, I was nearly delirious and unceremoniously dumped back into my hotel room. I'm still fairly unclear on where I am and what I'm doing here, but hopefully this will clear up along with my hazy head.

If last night is any indication, this is going to be an interesting time...

Monday, March 22, 2004

The country, not the state

Off to Georgia tomorrow, frantically underpacked, suddenly realizing that I have absolutely no orientation when I arrive - I know the city name, and the name of the currency. I am not entirely sure what the name of my guesthouse is, have nary a clue where to find either my accommodations or my office on a map. I trust that I will be able to get a visa at the airport, since I failed to do so in advance.

I have not taken myself on an overseas spree in two years, and above all, I am terrified that I've gone soft.

It's a very, very foreign country, with an inscrutable language bearing zero resemblance to the Russian I only barely have a grip on anyway. They'll all know Russian, and a few will know English. Americans are fairly well-liked, but Russians are despised. So I'm not entirely sure if it will be more offensive to begin a conversation in English, which they are unlikely to know, or Russian, which they will know but might take offense to.

I've learned "hello," (it's a ridiculous "gamarjoba") so I might just stick with dumb toothy grin and ample gamarjobas. All anxieties aside, and forgetting for a moment all work-related duties, I'm looking forward to the famous wines, the excellent cuisine, and fabled scenery of this strange, troubled country.

Friday, March 19, 2004

How these things work

There is a note of disdain in the way we talk about life as it was under the Soviet Union. Stubborn bureaucrats who could not be budged to give you the stamp or signature you needed, until suddenly, your cousin Ivan who is good friends with the consulate placed a call and all was cleared. When we see these special favors and preferential treatment for those who are connected, we note with a sniff that it's a relic, a holdover, a Soviet mindset.

But of course, it's just a coarser version of the cronyism that governs what we call the "Good Old Boys" network, and it is symptomatic of any bloated bureaucracy, anywhere.

Embassies, I have been learning, are no exception. You may read on their consular website that a certain visa will take 5 business days to process. But, of course, such deadlines are simply starting points for negotiation.

"Pleeeeease!" I'll beg the dubious Georgian woman behind the counter. "I know you need a week, but I really have to have it today. We do a lot of work in Georgia, and we can't delay." She'll sigh heavily and say "Come back at 2."

Today, I ran off to the Moldovan embassy, rushing to get a visa for my colleague. I arrived at their door only to find that the embassy is closed on Fridays. No luck.

Back at the office, I run into Andre. Andre is an endearing, rotund Russian chap who used to work at the Moldovan embassy.

"Andre!" I say. "I went by your old workplace today to get a visa. Didn't know they were closed on Fridays!"
"Of course closed on Friday, they're Muslim, you know, why do you not come see me first?"
"I don't know. But now I have to go on Monday and I don't have time."
"No, no Monday, I call the guy, you wait."

Sure enough, I get a ring from Andre in a few hours,
"So Susan you go now to embassy."
"But it's closed?"
"No, the guy is there, just ring and he'll give you visa today."
"Today? That's wonderful, thank you, Andre!"
"Ah yes, you are welcome Comrade."


Thursday, March 18, 2004

Campaign finance doppelgangers

I'm having fun with this campaign fund website thingy.
Searching by Zip Code, I see that several West Campus denizens at UT with the title of "student" have donated $2,000 to GWB. Hmm, Daddy's girls, I think?

Also, fun with candidate names:
- A Wesley A. Clark of Brooklyn, NY gave $1000 to Wesley K. Clark, the candidate. (I think Wes Jr. lives in California)
- Everyone with the last name "Gephardt" donated to Dick Gephardt. Relatives? Coincidence? Vanity?
- A certain Howard Dean of Illinois donated $2,000 to Bush. Must be hard for him.
- Every Sharpton gave to Bush
- No Kucinich gave to anyone. Hm, figures.
- John Edwards, the real one, is the only lame-o who actually donated to himself. Ha ha!
Another stab of Austin nostalgia today; I can only assume it's the dreary mid-March chill here, the baby snowfall last night. Tbilisi is forecasting 70 degrees and sunshine for the day of my arrival. Perhaps a little travel is all I need to shake the pangs for Barton Springs.

Tonight, we're introducing Matt, Justin, and Noreen to the wonderful world of lobbyist-sponsored happy hours, where one's unquenchable love of free booze clashes with one's allergy to schmoozing shit-eating grinners in a titanic turmoil of the spirit.

Also, via Wonkette, I see a great new tool for intruding upon the private lives of my neighbors. Now you can track campaign giving by name and address in your very own town! The building in DC contributing the most to the Dems is just an egg's throw from my own humble abode. In my building, however, the only listed patron contributed $1000 to GWB. I will have to find him, now that I have his name, rent the apartment above him, and invite all the gay men I can find to come and have very loud sex all night in it. I've got a candidate in mind already.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Faux Pas

I recently learned that a gentleman I worked with was a renowned poet and dissident in his own country of Romania, when Romania was under the thumb of Ceaucescu. He emigrated to the U.S. when his family's lives were threatened for their political involvement, and he retains something like a hero status in Romania and Moldova.

Today, he told me about a time he took a flight on Moldovan Air to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. The plane was a propeller, and there were 13 lucky passengers. Shortly after take-off, a mad fire exploded from the back of the plane. "We were lucky," he said, "that it was February, and that it was raining. The ground, was like....pie." So the plane was able to fall back to the earth and sink in softly, and he was able to escape with his life.

Why did he tell me this story?

Well, because I just booked him on a flight to Chisinau on a propeller plane operated by Moldova Air. He sweetly told me this story and requested apologetically that we, perhaps, find an alternate route.

So when booking flights for dissident poets to underdeveloped lands, try to avoid reserving a flight that once sent them hurtling to the earth in flames. It's only polite.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to Hell I Go

I'm beginning to get the radical Islamist's point about our decadent Western culture. What else can possibly explain the fact that, at first glance, I thought that this tragic photo of an Iraqi child blinded by a U.S. bomb was actually a Versace ad?

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

According to this Salon blurb, Osama bin Laden "narrowly escaped capture by French troops working with American forces in Afghanistan."

Can you fathom anything more catastrophic for the bravado and bluster of our man in Washington than bin Laden being captured by the French??

Of course, I don't care who captures him; I don't care if they stage a lousy photo-op of Bush in fatigues carrying bin Laden in a net over his shoulder, if that's what we have to do to get this guy. But aside from that, I'd kind of completely love it if the French caught him. Because that would be hilarious. And because I clearly am a dirty traitor to my homeland.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Things I will never say to a colleague in bathroom/elevator/hallway,etc.

Thank God it's Friday.
Is it only [Wednesday/2pm/8:30am]?
It's almost Friday.
Oh, it's Monday.
You know Mondays.

In other web-browsing adventures, a snippet from Maccers:

Cab conversation with stranger this morning

She: Holy fucking shit I was there for 15 minutes. Goddamn shitty day for cabs.
Me: Really. Too bad. Anyway you’re in one now.
She: Yeah and he made me put my bag in the back. I didn’t want to hold you up.
Me: Oh God don’t worry I am totally fine. Are you flying out today?
She: Yeah this evening.
Me: Anywhere nice?
She: Yeah Miami. Gonna put my arse out in the sun all weekend. And drink my head off.
Me: Fab. Am really jealous.

[A minute silence as she cakes on foundation and bright red lipstick]

She: Argh fuck no. I am just lying. I am going to God fucking awful DC. God I fucking hate that place.
Me: Oh I’m sorry. Miami would have been so nice.
She: Yeah. Life fucking sucks some times, you know.
Me: Really? That’s too bad. I’m sorry.

Anyway, just noticed that everybody here at work has also apparently come down with the eyeball-poking urge (see below) and has left the office. I'm out.
I want to poke my eyeballs out with pencils

I am so bored.
And a wretched employee.

But, in a bit of positive international news, who says that Russia's social reforms have stagnated? In today's Novye Izvestia: RAIDS BY ARMED MEN IN SKI MASKS WILL BE BANNED.

See? Everything's going to be just fine.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Paris Hilton sex tape—porn or art?

Careful now. It's not smeared in feces like all fine art, but it is shot in night vision, which at least has a self-referential film school parody thing going on.
Christopher Hitchens. Not a fan:
Schlock, Yes; Awe, No; Fascism, Probably - The flogging Mel Gibson demands.
Gibson's producer lied when he said that a pope Gibson despises had endorsed the film. He would not show the movie to anyone who might object in advance. He will not debate any of his critics, and he relies on star-stricken pulp interviewers to feed him soft questions. Now, as the dollars begin to flow from this front-loaded fruit-machine of cynical publicity, he is sobbing about the risks and sacrifices he has made for the Lord. A coward, a bully, a bigmouth, and a queer-basher. Yes, we have been here before. The word is fascism, in case you are wondering, and we don't have to sit through that movie again.

From the looks of the bathtub detritus scattered about my bathroom floor, I will never get to work today. I'm babysitting the plumbers this morning, and snow is falling outside. I have my pepper spray by my side, placed within arm's reach because the paranoid tales of predatory service men have clouded my more trusting instincts. But of course they're perfectly nice.

Perhaps it's the sitting at home on a workday, not sick, not working, that puts me in the mind of a 1950s housewife. I'm sifting through my bread recipes, wondering why I can't ever get my dough to rise correctly. Is it the yeast? Is it inadequate kneading? I'm thinking about the hyacinths that have already come out of their dormant winter in Kriston's garden, and I'm worrying that the snow will smother them. I don't have a tarp to cover them, and anyway I'm at my house now. Briefly, the image of his next door neighbor's perfect, precocious daffodils flashed into my mind, and I felt certain that they're doomed.

I read Christina Nehring's wonderful essay on Silvia Plath this morning in the Atlantic Monthly. What an essayist that woman is. I utterly agreed with her on Plath, and the cult of Plath that rose in her wake to damn her and canonize her. Nehring acknowledges what shouldn't need mentioning, that Plath is a serious artist of the first rank, and not just a muse for world-weary preteens and melodramatic man-haters. As Nehring notes, those that respond to her so often feel the need to see her as either a raving madwoman or a simple (in both meanings of the word) domestic.

Instead she's mesmerizingly complex, and Nehring says Plath's life makes an argument by itself for a critic to consider biography alongside art. Both maternal and "violently ambivalent' towards her children. Both exuberant in love, and transfixed by the mysteries of death. Don't we all contain multitudes?

A critic tries to pin her on a contradiction, as if one could call an artist on "flip flops" as one can a politician. One of Plath's most affecting, disturbing poems is her "Tulips," written of these flowers that her husband brought to her in the hospital. Critics have said:
Look at this ecstatic letter about sweet Ted's [her husband] bringing her tulips when she was in the hospital.... And now look at the poem "Tulips": the flowers "hurt" her; they are "dangerous animals"; the smiles of the speaker's husband and child "catch onto my skin" like "little smiling hooks." Was she schizophrenic? Or just a pathological liar?"

And this is exactly the Plath that irritates many of her critics. Come now, they say, you had a loving husband and a child. Why the melodrama? Nehring responds well in defense of Plath. Of course, in her daily life she was not "running around ranting blackly like Lady Lazarus and 'eating men like the air.'" (even though, honestly, how awesome would that be?) Like anyone, she told herself she was happy, she pursued hobbies, she found tiny joys. She coped. But:
that does not mean there wasn't a level at which Plath gave free rein to her doubts, at which she permitted herself to be pessimistic, to be brutal, to follow her fears, her fantasies, her darker intuitions, as far down or up as they would take her. It seems to me that the critics who call Plath schizophrenic are pretending that people are simpler than they are.


The cursing and banging from my bathroom seems to be dwindling, though I note with dismay that the snowfall seems to be energizing. It's a bit of a hike to the bus stop, so perhaps I'll cozy up here a bit longer. No more Plath for today, and I promise not to stick my head into the oven.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Calling all...Matty

Okay, I have what can loosely be described as a photography question.

Hypothetically, say that your upstairs neighbors was evicted. And say that his freaky ass got booted so fast, that he left a good portion of his belongings on the outside balcony, never to be reclaimed. And say the landlords tell you to take what you want, and send the rest to the dumpster. So, maybe you're rooting through the boxes like the sorry dumpster diver that you are, and you find the can-opener that mysteriously and suddenly disappeared a few weeks ago. You'd probably ruminate for a minute, realize that the freaky evicted neighbor had your house keys, and determine that he let himself in and helped himself to your can-opener, forcing you to secure a new one.


Then say, you continue through the boxes, mostly crap, and happen upon a forgotten item of value. A Kodak Elph camera! What a find! You push the switch and it whirrs to life! A working Elph! You would probably do a little jig at your extraordinary luck. Then, you'd hand it over to your boyfriend triumphantly. Maybe he takes it and notes the coincidence that this is the exact same model as his Elph. What fun! Matching Elphs! You are too cute!

But then, maybe, a suspicion starts to crawl into the crevices of your innocent, trusting heart. You and your boyfriend race downstairs to scavenge his room. Mysteriously, inexplicably, astonishingly, his Elph camera seems to be missing. Now, you start to think about the finished roll of film that had been sitting next to the camera. Is the first half of that roll your Halloween pictures? Is the last half...too horrible to contemplate, potentially illegal, given the noises you have been hearing above your head?

Now throw this in: maybe it rained the night before, so a lot of the knick-knacks were wet. And say you had a trip coming up to an exotic new country that called for a camera far better than your own little piece. How do you know that the purloined Elph will hold up on the trip and take photos? If it's still operational as far as zooming and electronics and all that, will it most likely be okay? Is there any way to tell, other than buying film, taking random photos, and paying to have it developed, which you perhaps cannot afford?

Monday, March 08, 2004

...Drinking Mad Dog Margaritas and Not Caring Where You Are...

After a recent party, Kriston and I were talking about how refreshing it was to meet terribly interesting people at a party with significant, meaningful careers, and engaging thoughts on politics, life, travel, environment, or whatever their gig was. Maybe this was just a good party, and certainly there was a lack of Capitol Hill staffers, but it seemed a relief from the parties I dreaded in college where nobody had anything to say, they just ran around screeching and puking.

Don't get me wrong.

I put in my screeching and puking years just like anybody, but I can't think of any behavior that loses its charm so quickly once you've outgrown the phase yourself. And consider the other delights of your average Riverside keg party. Inevitably shitty beer that you can't get to anyway because the apartment, balcony, railing, and stairwell are so crowded you can't squeeze yourself into the blacklit apartment. If you do accomplish this, some frat boy will be stationed at the keg to pour you a measly plastic cupful of diluted swill, with a leer on his face unquestionably suggesting that you should sleep with him at once for his kegside chivalry. If you are confronted with a conversation, it's an awkward back-and-forth of what'syourmajor,whatyearareyou,doyouknowsara? Needless to say, my friends gave up taking my antisocial ass to parties as soon as I was old enough to find my true home: the bars.

But back to my point. Despite the rumors, not everyone in DC is a pretentious, self-serving, schmooze artist. Those people are conveniently cordoned off in Capitol Hill and Georgetown, and can be easily avoided. Elsewhere, there are plenty of people who are interesting without being bores, and fun without puking on your shoes.

But however appealing this may sound, I can only stand about 3 months of this grown-up town before I crave the never-never land of Austin. Would I trade an interesting party conversation for the opportunity to vote for Leslie for mayor? Are the lovely spring cherry blossoms a mature replacement for the spectacle of Eeyore's Birthday? I don't know, I just hate to choose. I suppose this is what the economists call opportunity cost.

One thing's for sure. No celebrity sighting here in DC will bring as much cheer as my yearly sighting of this guy at Eeyore's. It was even worth slogging through all the hippies for an eyeful of...that.

Thursday, March 04, 2004


Don't you hate it when you finish lunch, and you are instantly hungrier than when you started? They say that drinking lots of water will quell your appetite. Something is wrong. Maybe it's all the lead tearing a big hungry hole in my stomach.

My friends rule

The absurdly talented Ms. Jessica Garratt of Austin, TX has just won the Tom McAfee Discovery Prize for new poets, and four of her poems will be featured in the summer issue of the prestigious Missouri Review. This prize is not given at any set intervals, it is simply at the discretion of the editors to recognize a talented poet when they find one worthy of the prize.

I'm officially calling dibs on knowing Jess before she was famous, and while I'm at it, serving as her muse. Hoorah, it's about time someone recognized what we already knew about her.

And as a former managing editor of Analecta, I'm also proud that we published her first. Even if it was during Kriston's tenure...
Better late than wrong

When I lived in Dallas, I could rarely bring myself to open up the editorial page of the Dallas Morning News. While it reflected fairly accurately the political sentiments of the area, the political sentiments of the area made we want to yak from the dawn of my political awareness through highschool graduation when I escaped to the liberal oasis of Austin.

Nowadays, however, I keep my eye on their editorial page from time to time as a political barometer of conservative America (specifically, moderate conservative. Non-ideologue conservative). When Bush announced his support for the gay marriage amendment, the New York Times and the Washington Post registered their opposition in editorials the very next day. The Dallas Morning News? Not a word. Checking back periodically, I searched in vain for an opinion. On Tuesday, the editorial board finally settled the wrestling match with its soul and reached a conclusion: Gay Marriage: Tough call, but amendment not necessary.

While I was pleased to see this headline in Dallas' newspaper, and while I know it will be accompanied by irate letters to the editor, I was even more astonished to see their rationale. It's easy enough and, I think, even sufficient to say that their opposition to gay marriage is not stronger than their opposition to amending the constitution frivolously. The board could have simply made this a constitution issue and not a gay issue. But here's what they said:
We view the term "marriage" as inherently religious, and we recognize that the prospect of government-sanctioned gay marriage feels intrusive to many Americans. Despite our reticence about the term, however, we don't believe that gay marriage threatens the core of our culture or our system of government. As we've explained in our previous support for civil unions, we don't believe the uniting of two people of the same gender will destroy our country or undermine what makes it great. So in the final analysis, we don't believe that gay marriage is something the government must stop at all costs.

It is this sensibility that leads us to oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. We don't come to this conclusion easily. We are indeed empathetic with those who feel violated by judicial heavy-handedness and seek a greater electoral role in the controversy.
When you strip away all the what-if and how-to technicalities, this controversy centers on whether one believes that the prospect of two people of the same gender entering into marriage as personally discomforting as many Americans view it to be threatens the soul of our culture or the governing system of our country. Our collective sense is that it does not, and therefore, with respect to those who disagree, we recommend against pursuit of a federal marriage amendment.

I hope I'm not reading too much into this when I hope that this accurately represents the sentiments of your average, reasonable American. It seems to be the feeling I get from non-frothing-liberal acquaintances. "Eh, we're sort of uncomfortable with gay people, but let's not go overboard, here..." Not a ringing endorsement of equality and acceptance, but tolerance is a great starting place and it allows for communities to work together. So far, Bush's culture war has made me prouder of America than otherwise.

Paging Evian

Some homes in the district have so much lead in their water, it can be tasted. Tests for lead have found up to 48,000 parts per billion in some district homes, which is, shall we say, a significant percentage over the legal maximum of 15 parts per billion. No, not 15,000. 15. (Note to Orrin Hatch: I think I know a way to fix this problem. Guns for everyone!)

This certainly makes me reconsider my latest self-improvement initiative of drinking hydrating liquids. After spending the last 3 days chugging water and then peeing every 5 minutes, I think I might have to return to my steady diet of coffee and beer. A girl has to think about her health!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Hot on the heels of his visit to the U.S. and his conference with President Bush, Georgian President Saakashvili co-piloted an SU-25 military jet.

Purportedly during his trip to Washington, he and Bush had been talking about Georgia's commitment to structural democratic reforms and security measures. Clearly, Bush was simply sharing flying tips.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Work it, ladies

Although I'm often in agreement with the sentiment expressed by the Pub Quiz team last night that named themselves "Marriage is Gay," I can't help but make the awww sweet face at these:

Speaking of the Gay Question, of which I haven't been really writing, the Washington City Paper has a good, if tangential point. Bush flaps his lips about how gay marriage and yadda yadda will weaken society yadda yadda, which we all of course now is bullshit, but what about the opposite argument? Gays are demonstrably good for society.

Look at what the gay nesting instinct has done for DC alone! Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, and other once untouchable neighborhoods that had long been abandoned to the gangs and the drugs are now total hotspots attracting gads of high-end retailing and astronomical rents. Why? Because the gay community moved in with their Trading Spaces genes and their unparalleled purchasing power, and retailers, restaurants, and timid gentrifiers followed. What this means for long-term residents who are being priced out of their homes is one thing, but if the city can follow through with promises to keep affordable housing in these neighborhoods, everyone will be glad that the criminal elements that roamed free have had to find new rocks to hide under.

Now, really, that is neither here nor there on the issues swirling around marriage, but credit where credit's due. If I were running a Sim City town and needed to transform a depressed, undesirable, unsafe neighborhood into a high-end Mecca, there's no question about what I'd do. Send in the gays!
DC: not Utah

Here in the District of Columbia, there is no shortage of people out to screw us over. In addition to our astronomical tax rates, our lack of congressional representation, and toxic levels of lead in our water, we endure senators using the district as a personal laboratory for their pet issues. Against the recommendations of our non-voting congressperson, DC has become a guinea pig for vouchers, and if Orrin Hatch has his way, all our crime problems will be addressed with a repeal of DC's ban on handguns.

Because, Lord knows, the one thing we need in this city is more guns! Our "congressperson," Eleanor Holmes Norton, joined DC Mayor Anthony Williams in visiting Sen. Hatch to register their strident opposition to this proposal. It is rather embarassing that our city leaders have to go and beg a congressman from Utah to heed their recommendations for DC's well-being. Hatch said he would take it under consideration. It's an insult.

After the most recent schoolyard slaying of a DC student, Mayor Anthony Williams went to Ballou High School and listened to the grief, the rage, and the roaring accusations for six hours. What are the odds that Orrin Hatch would visit Anacostia High School to explain in person why more guns would address the needs of students already dodging bullets after football practice? How often has he been within earshot of the people who are losing their sons and daughters? Well, certainly he has no obligation; after all, these aren't his constituents! Exactly. Let the DC government, what there is of it, set the course for public safety. Senator Hatch, keep your mind on Utah unless you plan on facing the realities of your abstract policy principles.

Word is that the Senate is backing off from this proposal. Let's hope so.